Interview – Keerthi James: First player from Kerala to play Women’s T20 Challenge

She created history as she became the first player from Kerala to get picked for the Women’s T20 Challenge. An accidental off-spinner, the 25-year-old has come a long way since making her debut for her state team in 2010. Though she started off as an athlete, she switched to playing cricket, thanks to her elder brother and mother, who have been her pillars of strength.

Female Cricket got in touch with Keerthi James to know about her cricketing journey and future plans.

 

Female Cricket interviews Keerthi James
Female Cricket interviews Keerthi James

 

Excerpts.

Take us through your childhood and when did you start playing cricket?

I was a very mischievous child. My mother, who works as a speech therapist for differently-abled children, used to have a tough time handling two troublemakers at home, one, of course, being me and the other being my elder brother, Pravin, who is eight years older than me. My elder brother always wanted a younger brother as a sibling, who could play cricket with him, but then he had me. However, that didn’t deter him. He made sure that I was his cricket partner right from a very young age. As far as I remember from the day I started walking and running, he made me play cricket with him. I was the bowler always. We used to play with a plastic ball in our backyard. I used to run in fast and ball to him. Given the big age gap that we had, I always ended up on the losing side. Despite being a regular loser I didn’t stop trying. I always had the determination to beat him so I kept trying hard.

Our mother was happy that our energies were getting channelized in a proper direction. She also admitted me to a dance class and Hindi speaking class but that didn’t work too well. I was always interested in sports. In my school, I was involved in athletics. I was a 100m and 200m sprinter and did long jump and javelin throw.

 

Keerthi James in action during a domestic tournament. PC: Female Cricket
Keerthi James in action during a domestic tournament. PC: Female Cricket

 

So when did you actually start playing cricket?

Being actively involved in athletics I used to get tired and sometimes used to sleep in the class when the teacher was teaching. One fine day when there was an announcement made in the class about a school girls’ cricket team, I was caught napping. The teacher woke me up and asked me to go for the selection trials.

Since I had played cricket right from a very tender age, I made it to the school team. I was in seventh standard when I first played school cricket. I also played for my college and university later. 

Did you always bowl off-spin?

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Actually, I became an off-spinner quite accidentally. I used to practice in my school, St. Mary under coach Sohan sir. I started with bowling right-arm medium pace but then sir observed that my wrist used to turn at the moment of delivery. Sir advised me to take up leg-spin. Back then I had no idea about leg-spin. One of the boys who used to practice with us taught me to bowl off-spin and I picked it up. I started bowling off-spin in the nets and sir was impressed with that. He asked to continue with off-spin.

When did you break into the Kerala state team?

I attended a district cricket camp where Sohan sir was my coach. From there I made the cut for the Kerala U16 team in 2010 when I was in the eighth standard. A year later, I played for Kerala U19 and the senior team. I played under Suman Sharma ma’am for Kerala for five years. At present, I am training under Biju George sir.

 

Keerthi James with Coach Suman Sharma. PC: FemaleCricket.com
Keerthi James with Coach Suman Sharma. PC: FemaleCricket.com

 

Which is your favourite performance to date?

There have been quite a few but if I have to choose one it will be that T20 match which we (Kerala U23) played against Railways in the 2019-20 season. We were defending a modest score of 75 and we managed to bowl out Railways for 72. I opened the bowling in that match and picked up 2-11 in four overs, including 16 dot balls. Though I picked up just the two wickets, my contribution with the ball in a winning cause made that match memorable for me.

Which has been the toughest match for you so far?

It has to be that T20 against Himachal Pradesh in 2019-20 during the senior women’s T20 league. I was smacked for 50 runs in four overs. After that match, I got a lot of phone calls asking what went wrong. Usually, I am an economical bowler and have been entrusted with the role to contain the run flow. However that day things just did not go my way. To my surprise, after the match, I received so many phone calls which I think were more than what I received on the day when I was announced to be a part of the Women’s T20 Challenge (smiles).

Were there any lows in your cricketing journey?

I was selected to play for India Blue in the Senior Women’s T20 Challenger Trophy in the 2018-19 season. I was excited to play under the leadership of Mithali Raj, a player I always looked up to. This was the first time I was picked for the Challenger Trophy. I wanted to make the most of it, however, in the very first match itself, I twisted my left knee and was ruled out of the tournament.

The doctor concluded that it was an ACL tear and would require eight months for recovery. Suddenly the world almost fell apart for me. I didn’t know what the future was holding for me. I underwent surgery in August 2018 and was on complete bed rest. I used to call Suman ma’am late at night for two weeks to ask her when I would be able to resume playing cricket. Ma’am gave me a lot of confidence and I remember she told me that once I am back in action I will be an altogether different player. I was determined to make a comeback. I was up and running in four months instead of eight and played a BCCI tournament in January 2019.

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Keerthi James with her Kerala State Team Members. PC: FemaleCricket.com
Keerthi James with her Kerala State Team Members. PC: FemaleCricket.com

 

After completing your schooling and junior college, you moved to Delhi. Why did you choose Delhi?

I pursued a BA in Political Science from Delhi University. Actually, it was my brother’s suggestion that I should go to Delhi for better prospects. Also, the fact that Suman ma’am was there made me want to practice with her. She was Kerala’s coach for five years and I had learned a lot under her. So I wanted to train under her and play competitive cricket there.

Recently, you had a good outing in the senior women’s T20 league. On the back of your performances, you were selected for the Women’s T20 Challenge. How did you feel when you came to know about this?

I was very delighted when I got the news. Honestly, I was not expecting it. Usually, after the BCCI tournaments, we have the Challenger Trophy so I was looking forward to that. But selection in the Women’s T20 Challenge came as a pleasant surprise. I am eagerly looking forward to playing in the tournament. It will be a great learning experience as there will be players from India who have played international cricket as well as foreign players.

Having gone through the domestic grind for so many years, what is your ultimate goal?

I want to play for India.

I am a former cricketer having represented Mumbai University at All India University level. I was a part of MCA probables for the U-19 and U-23 age group. I have been an avid cricket writer for the last five years. Currently I am pursuing my Ph.D from IIT Bombay.

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